Sunday, January 12, 2014


Safe! at home!
   Many pixels have been sacrificed this week on the suggestion that DMs establish 'Safe Words' for the players to invoke when the game/side conversations get out of hand.  So here go some more.  I agree rather less vehemently with Erik over at Tenkar's Tavern and Talysman at The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, that safe words do not belong at the table. (You can stop reading now if all you wanted was my opinion.)

The reason I consider my agreement less vehement is that I think the subject is worth a discussion rather than a polemic refutation. In his post, Talysman stated that the concept of Safe Words comes from the BDSM community where they are established so that the submissive can control the action. That corresponds with my knowledge of the community and subject, which I freely admit is based on TV, episodes of CSI and more recently Doc Martin, not any personal knowledge.  I suspect that is how most people perceive the subject and, whether or not it's true, the perception of it is what must be addressed.  Indeed, I think the failure to address the perception was a critical flaw in the original post.

   Now to go back to original post the suggestion for the safety word was to handle two separate situations, the action in the game and the side conversations.  The perception of the term 'safety word' is only related to controlling actions.

As a DM, I'm the only one who should be controlling the game, even then it's race to keep up with the players.  The idea that a player could have a safe word that would make me say the 'oh, OK, the troll didn't just hit for claw,claw, bite, rend, after all' - is completely abhorrent.  I have run groups where people got visibly upset when their character reached single digit hit points.  I didn't cut them out, but starting with the next campaign I explicitly stated that characters may die - and had one croak in the first random encounter - the dice dictated the outcome, not me.

The second suggestion that a safety word be established to control side conversations, um, no, bad idea.  Here's why, groups are social entities and an important part of the socialization process is the group deciding what behaviors they will accept and developing mechanisms to indicate when a line has been crossed.  Indeed the title of Talysman's post gives his group's mechanism; others may consider it rude, crude and socially unacceptable - but they are not part of his group and do not get to dictate it's behavior.

In the case of a pick up group at a store, school or convention - I still would not use it.  Establishing such an explicit rule I think would make the players more concerned about not offending each other than about having fun.  And in the end if it's not fun why bother playing the game.  A DM has plenty of ways of controlling players as well as characters and as the person in control, it's part of their responsibility to make sure that the everyone has fun.

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